By Mike Luery

 

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Legislature was poised to take up a budget proposal Wednesday offered by majority Democrats, but the plan was widely seen as merely a stopgap to meet the constitutional budget deadline.

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   Democrats hoped to pass their budget plan on majority votes in the Assembly and Senate, allowing lawmakers to continue receiving their salary and per diem payments. An initiative approved by voters last year punishes lawmakers by stopping their paychecks if they miss the June 15 deadline.

   Even as they offered a detailed budget proposal, Democratic leaders intended for the governor to continue negotiating with Republicans, who must provide two votes in each legislative house to enact the budget Democrats and Gov. Jerry Brown really want.

   That hoped-for budget includes a temporary extension of expiring tax increases to fund schools in the coming fiscal year and an authorization for a special election this fall so voters can decide whether to extend the tax hikes for an even longer period.

   Under the Democratic plan to be considered Wednesday, education would see $3 billion less in state funding than Brown called for when he released his revised budget proposal in May.

   Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said the majority party’s plan to be considered Wednesday also includes more than $500 million in cuts to state programs to help close California’s remaining $9.6 billion deficit.

   It also relies on tax and fee increases Republicans say will be challenged in court if they are enacted without a two-thirds vote. Those include increasing car registration fees and extending a quarter-cent sales tax that otherwise would expire next month, aides said.

   Democrats still hope Republicans will agree to ask voters later this year to extend temporary tax increases, Steinberg said. The main debate revolves around asking voters to extend increases to the personal income, sales and vehicle taxes that were approved in 2009. The sales and vehicle tax hikes will expire June 30, while the income tax increase expired in January.

   So far, Democrats have been unable to line up the four Republican votes needed to set a special election or keep the taxes in place until voters have their say.

   “We will do the people’s work, either with them or without them,” Steinberg said referring to Republicans.

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   He said Democrats’ alternative includes “painful cuts, difficult cuts.”

   A Field Poll released Wednesday shows 52 percent of registered voters support a renewal of those taxes, with 44 percent opposed. That’s down from 61 percent support for the tax extensions indicated in a Field Poll taken in March.

   Brown and Democratic lawmakers already have reduced by more than half an original budget deficit of $26.6 billion, primarily through spending cuts. Democrats have little appetite for making even deeper cuts in social services, health care, parks and other programs.

   Their plan to be considered Wednesday avoids even deeper cuts by reducing the temporary 1 cent increase in the state sales tax to a quarter-cent, thereby retaining some additional tax revenue. It would boost the state’s vehicle registration fee by $12, impose a surcharge on rural residents for the cost of fighting wildfires and require online retailers to collect state sales tax.

   The Democratic plan also revives a proposal pushed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sell 11 state properties and lease them back from the new landlords but makes important changes to the previous Schwarzenegger proposal, primarily by allowing the state to repurchase the buildings when the lease expires.

   Democrats also assume higher tax revenue in the coming fiscal year from a recovering economy.

   The budget asks Republicans to provide the two-thirds majority needed to extend the increase in the state vehicle tax to generate $500 million for local law enforcement programs. Without the extension, local governments would lose the money.

   Democratic leaders wanted the Legislature to renew the vehicle and sales tax increases directly until the special election — and perhaps throughout the entire coming fiscal year — to provide funding stability for schools.

   Republican lawmakers have not agreed on the tax matters and say they want reforms to public employee pensions, a spending cap and regulatory changes. Senate Minority Leader Bob Dutton faulted Democrats for not agreeing to those changes.

   That shows Democrats “can’t stand up to public employee unions and refuse to listen to the will of the people who want real reforms,” Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, said in a statement.

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   (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)